Saturday, March 6, 2010


It turned out to be a great Friday morning. My car had to be moved for alternate side of the street parking at 9 AM so I had some time to kill with the vehicle before 10:30. I called up Cal to see if he wanted to come over and take the stylishly cool metal cabinet and hybrid VHS/VCR he had trash-picked on his way over to our dinner date last weekend. Oh, how the man loved to trash pick, it was in his blood and he had a gift for it. I questioned the VHS/CD hybrid he had under his other arm, but the cabinet was the fashizzle. I had been sort of looking for a spot for it in my place, I knew if he came over and saw it well placed, I could probably wrench it away from him. But the heavy metal piece was still standing in the middle of my front hall with the relic tape player from The Wiz circa 80’s adding to it’s height, bulk, and presence.

Anyway, I offered to come pick up Cal at his house a few blocks away, bring him over here to fetch his prizes, load them into the car and take them back to his home filled of his worldly possessions. The man had enough to fill 3 upstate antique shops, and enough brick-a-brack to keep the old ladies who ran the church sales pricing stuff for months.

But Cal had a better plan for the morning, and it did sound like a lot more fun to me. He wanted us to go to this place on 23rd street I had heard him talk about before like a kid on Christmas morning. It was called –something- Housing Works. I guess they had all sorts of antique finds among the crap that some people call antiques, but are actually stuff from dead people’s apartments that they should have thrown out long before they were dead. Anyway, Cal had always spoken of it with much affection and was inviting me to join in the adventure. He would makes us some coffee, put it in his jumbo to-go cups, we would head in to 23rd Street, crab a space, go antiquing, and he would drop me at work downtown and bring my wheels back to Brooklyn all before 11. I always jumped at any opportunity to have an adventure with Cal. He was fun to hang out with. I loved his man-energy, he was a big man, a retired cop, and pretty much my best friend at this point. Whatever we did, it felt like some Huck Fin adventure. Cal had a certain turn of the century vibe but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was. He was a great storyteller, had a laid back energy of days gone by, he rarely used profanity of any kind – other than when he was quoting cops or perps – pulling another great tale from his vast vault of stories from his NYPD days.

We headed over the Brooklyn Bridge and off into the city, Cal riding shotgun, navigating our route to 23rd st, looking over his shoulder at every lane change or turn I would make en route. No harm could come to me when Cal was by my side, he made sure of it. He had called out a waiter who gave me ‘tude when I sent back my cheeseburger just last week. It was scary, protective, and provocative and made me want to jump him right there in the booth.

We grabbed a spot around 2nd Ave and 23rd. Cal picked up the Muni Meter charge, he always paid. It was just one more chivalrous quality that topped off my love for the guy. We had some time to kill before this place opened, so we meandered up the sidewalk along the wide open two way street. It was a pretty day, Cal reminded me that Spring was just 17 days away.

But soon our Spring musings were interrupted by a sketchy element near the corner of 23rd and 3rd. Right by a coffee and donut cart stood a group of colorful characters/youths. It was hard to tell if they were 16 or 25. One black kid was kind of hopping and bobbing in place, his dental health seriously in question, he was having a convo with a freshly showered girl in a baseball jacket and pajama pants. Her freshly washed hair pulled back tightly from her clean scrubbed lily-white face. They were hub-bubbing and looking around from side to side. The boy with the intermittent teeth was speaking in rushed whispered tones, she was more audible, “Yo, y’know if he’s got the Mac??” There were a cluster of other kids around them, in various states of cleanliness and aptitude. The man inside the coffee cart looked like he was crowded with business, yet no legitimate folks could dare approach him through the sketchy amoeba that blocked their way.

We crossed 3rd Avenue, Cal was looking back at them over his shoulder, “God, that pisses me off.” “What,” I said, “…they were pretty funny.” “You didn’t see that?” He said to me now standing on the opposite curb next to me, still looking towards the other corner. “We just saw two drug buys, you didn’t see that?” He went on to explain that he had seen money and drugs change hands. Twice. And it was barely 9:30, I thought to myself. It really irked him, I said, “Well, do something.” “What should I do, make a citizen’s arrest?” he said, still annoyed. It had to be a little tough, being retired and seeing stuff like this go down with such disrespect in broad daylight. He explained to me that even if you did call the cops, years ago they had changed the rules, these complaints were now logged and forwarded to the Narcotics Unit.

We crossed back over to the opposite side of street from the activity and Cal explained the ins and outs of what was probably going on across the way. There was a methadone treatment center near by. The junkies would get their meds and “sell” them usually not for cash, but for other drugs. But it was complicated. The junkies had to return their vials the following week to get more methadone, so they would have to transfer the stuff to other packaging to keep their scam going. They also had to take a blood test at the treatment center to make sure they were actually using the methadone, so they would do about a 3rd of it so they would have traces of it in their system, and sell/trade the remainder. It always amazed me how crafty drug addicts could be, if only they used their cunning for good, all of the world’s problems would be solved, that sort of thing.

No matter what we encountered in our travels, Cal knew the real story behind it. It was really remarkable. He knew everything there was to know about the Gowanus Canal, the history of The Wild West, he had a broad based knowledge of minerals, mining, and all the underpinnings of every form of crime ever committed. He couldn’t cook to save his life, but that was the only hole I could poke in what he knew. As far as I could tell he knew all there was to know about the topic. And the topic was “Everything”.

After we watched one of the young men hop in and out of a Sleepy’s mattress store that he was apparently using to stash his goods, we got tired of our civilian stake out and slipped into a Salvation Army. An authoritative employee admonished us with a startling intercom quality to her voice – “No Beverages In The Store!” busting us with our jumbo coffees that Cal had brought for us for our morning adventure. I nodded agreeably and placed my cup on the counter and waited quietly like I was in a “time out” corner. Cal ignored the woman’s warning and disappeared into the color coded racks of polyester clothing probably heading to the back of the store to where they kept the furniture. You never knew what you could find, what some antique dealer had missed, that once in a lifetime find that every thrift store aficionado hoped he would one day find, and against all odds maybe today would be that day.

We left the store and saw that the nefarious crowd had dispersed, like cockroaches skittering off when the lights come on – at least that’s what I imagined cops on the job would say in instances such as this. But Cal explained that they had actual hours of business. It seemed the 9:30 to 10 window was over, and all interested parties knew the rules, everyone was gone. Only the showered girl in the pajama bottoms and baseball jacket was still there, looking from side to side, delivering an seemingly important message to someone on the other end of her cell phone. Another girl joined her, and they moved along down the street. Cal said, “they’re probably SVA students going to class.” I had found a hole in Cal’s knowledge base. SVA was expensive, it was hard to get in to, it trained fairly well-to-do kids in all matters of taste and high design, and they would never allow a girl in plaid pajama bottoms and a Mets jacket to walk through the front doors.

Finally, our whole reason for coming to 23rd Street was opening its doors up the block. We did a quick walk around, I was hoping to find a terrific round dining table, but knew the odds were against me, gauging the other stuff that lined the linoleum floors. Cal had admitted on the way in that he was actually picking up something he had purchased on their online auction. He prepared me for what would turn out to be a very ugly lamp. Even the woman in the store who went to fetch it from the basement said, “I know just the one, it’s quite unusual”. That was code for butt ugly. When she finally brought it up I could see how he could think it would be interesting in a good way. From a distance, it looked like it was made of forged wrought iron, but it turned out to look like it had come from some Pier One impersonator store, or another store with a generic name that was big in the 90’s, like “The Lamp Store” or “All Things Lamps”. Still, he seemed mildly please, he could take it apart, put it back together, make another lesson out of it and add it to his vast knowledge base of All Things Everything.

Mission accomplished, another adventure with Cal was coming to an end. But as we left the second hand home store, 23rd Street did not disappoint. Our ears were met by the shrill tones of what sounded like a overly dramatic drag queen from “the projects.” He was wailing, lying there in the middle of the street. He had his hands cuffed behind his back, with a white cloth wrapped tightly around them. He was banging the side of his head against 23rd street, surrounded by several officers who had barricaded themselves in with 3 NYPD cruisers. They were just standing around, chuckling, taking in the spectacle, just another day at work. It was pretty funny, this guy was “sobbing” with no apparent tears. He had the bravado of bad acting – like a silent movie actress making the switch to talkies and not knowing you needed to tone it down for the new medium.
“I’z just wanna DIE!!!” “Please, juz lemme DIE-eeee (sob-sob)” Bang bang went his head, he was making sure it hit softly against the pavement. The cops standing by, apparently waiting for the cop with the super thick pair of rubber gloves. I thought they should feign some concern, a woman approached me, saying, “this is so sad”, shaking her head regretfully, apparently the man’s over-the-top performance had moved her. “I’z just wanna DIE-EEEEEE” he wailed between dry sobs.

Cal had gone across the street to empty his bladder at the Starbucks. He was crossing back over towards me, shaking his head cracking up. “You go over to this guy and offer him some Ho-Ho’s and he’ll be, “I’z wanna DIE---EEEE—gee thanks (gobble-gobble-gobble)!!” God, I loved Cal. So fucking funny, so true, the retro Ho-Ho’s reference and everything.

We left the scene and strolled back towards the car. Cal said “we better pick up the tempo if we want to miss a ticket.” I tried to keep up with him in spite of the fact that his legs were a third longer than mine, plus I was in no rush to leave him and go in to work.

He dropped me at the front door of my office, a block away from The Hudson, near the West Village. A wave of disappointment came over me. I was headed in for a day of legitimate goings on in the ad biz. The politics and drama had died down with the recession. It was pretty much heads down, do your work, keep your job. Cal leaned over and gave me a kiss, and sent me off like a kid at the school bus. I still held on to the coffee he had given me at the start of our morning adventure. I glanced over at it at various points through my tedious day – copy revisions, inner office emails, and meetings with account guys. The cardboard coffee cup was a reminder of my great morning on 23rd Street, our morning, me and Cal; the great narrator, protector, and finder of rare treasures among the trash.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great one, I really can visualize each of the moments. I love Cal.